Monday, January 18, 2010

have a little faith

My sister, Eileen, sent me the book "have a little faith" for Christmas.

She sent me this book because she reads my blog (Hi Eileen!) and she knows from reading things that I've written here, over the past few years, I've been really struggling with my faith. Although I try to believe God's fingerprints are on everything, my life doesn't really mirror that philosophy of "Let Go and Let God."

I'm confused.

Remind me again - what exactly it is that I believe? What exactly it is that I am doing with my life? Why it is that I can't make a decision? Why it is that I can't just feel settled already? Why it is that I must always feel like I'm fighting against the tide?

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I started reading the book a few weeks ago and every night, I read another chapter before I fall asleep. Although it's been a while since I've read any books to completion, I can easily say that THIS is probably the best book I have read in a long, long time. While I attend church - almost every week - this book has opened my eyes in ways church has not. I feel more calm and at peace because of this book. In essence, this book has been salve for my colicky soul. It is so captivating that I could very easily read the whole thing in an afternoon. But I haven't and for that, I'm glad.

Because I've been taking my time to get through it each day, I reflect on what I read the night before and I have an opportunity to mentally digest the story before picking the book up again, sometimes re-reading something, just to make sure the point sticks.

The book is written by Mitch Albom, who was made famous by his novel, "Tuesdays with Morrie." In the book, "have a little faith" Albom was asked by his childhood rabbi to deliver his eulogy. Albom agrees, on the condition that he get to know the rabbi as a man. And so an eight-year journey begins where Albom meets with his rabbi and the two discuss spirituality, faith and how those two things play in to the grand scheme of life.

There is one part of the book that has really resonated with me the past few days. As it turns out, I read this particular section on January 11, the night before the magnitude 7 earthquake that rocked Haiti. So that following day, as I was seeing the grisly images roll in from the Caribbean, all I could think about were Albom's words. He writes,
"The Reb (rabbi) was a believer from the start, that was clear, but I also knew that he was not crazy about some things God allowed on this earth. He had lost a daughter, many years ago. That had shaken his world. And he regularly cried after visiting once-robust members of the congregation who now lay helpless in hospital beds. "Why so much pain?" he would say, looking in to the heavens. "Take them already. What is the point?"

I once asked the Reb that most common of faith questions: why do bad things happen to good people? It had been answered countless times in countless ways; in books, in sermons on Web sites, in tear-filled hugs. The Lord wanted her with him ... He died doing what he loved ... She was a gift ... This is a test...

I remember a family friend whose son was struck with a terrible medical affliction. After that, at any religious ceremony - even a wedding - I would see the man out in the hallway, refusing to enter the service. "I just can't listen to it anymore," he would say. His faith had been lost.

When I asked the Reb, Why do bad things happen to good people?, he gave none of the standard answers. He quietly said, "No one knows." I admired that. But when I asked if that ever shook his belief in God, he was firm.

"I cannot waver," he said.

Well, you could, if you didn't believe in something all powerful.

"An atheist," he said.

Yes.

"And then I could explain why my prayers were not answered."

Right.

He studied me carefully. He drew in his breath.

"I had a doctor once who was an atheist. Did I ever tell you about him?"

No.

"This doctor, he liked to jab me and my beliefs. He used to schedule my appointments deliberately on Saturdays, so I would have to call the receptionist and explain why, because of my religion, that wouldn't work.

Nice guy, I said.

"Anyhow, one day, I read in the paper that his brother had died. So I made a condolence call."

After the way he treated you?

"In this job," the Reb said, "you don't retaliate."

I laughed.

"So I go to his house, and he sees me. I can tell he is upset. I tell him I am sorry for his loss. And he says, with an angry face, 'I envy you.' Why do you envy me?' I said. 'Because when you lose someone you love, you can curse God. You can yell. You can blame him. You can demand to know why. But I don't believe in God. I'm a doctor! And I couldn't help my brother!'

He was near tears. 'Who do I blame?' he kept asking me. 'There is no God. I can only blame myself.' "

The Reb's face tightened, as if in pain.

"That," he said softly "is a terrible self-indictment."

Worse than an unanswered prayer?

"Oh yes. It is far more comforting to think that God listened and said no, than to think that nobody's out there."
If there really IS a God, how does one explain the tragedy in Haiti?

Photo Credit: IFRC/Eric Quintero
Haiti Earthquake 2010

Officials have estimated that some three million people - a third of the population - were affected by the 7.0-magnitude quake. And there are predictions that as many as 200,000 could die. In comparison, the magnitude 7.0 Loma Prieta earthquake that stuck California in 1989 killed 63 people.

Why did it happen there?

To the poorest country in the western hemisphere?

To a country where structures are slapped together with no regard to seismic standards?

To a country where the severely impoverished eat mud cakes, which are nothing more than cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening because they don't have the resources for a proper meal?

Haven't the Haitians suffered enough?

Photo Credit: American Red Cross/Talia Frenkel
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My homepage is Yahoo, so this week whenever I've logged on to the internet, I see the images and news stories rolling in from Haiti. With tears streaming down my face, I watched the video clip of the 11-year old girl who was rescued on Thursday and died a short time later. Her final words spoken?

"Mother, don't let me die."

Did the earthquake occur because 200 years ago Haitians made a pact with the devil?

Photo Credit: Matthew Marek/American Red Cross
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Personally, I don't think so.

In fact, I really like what the hilariously brilliant Jon Stewart has to say (do you even READ this thing?!):
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10).
I typically do not go to church twice in the same weekend, but this weekend I did because I heard the Ugandan Orphan Choir would be performing at a nearby church and I really wanted for our children to see these incredible kids. At the second service, the pastor spoke of a blind man.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:1-3)
There is absolutely NO WAY to fathom the destruction and devastation that has occurred in Haiti. I don't think that the people that are there - on the ground - can get their minds around it.

From a scientific standpoint, I completely understand why the earthquake happened. From a spiritual standpoint, I can only believe that this is an opportunity for the work of God to be displayed in our lives. Provided of course, you believe God exists. Which to me, I'd much prefer to believe that than the alternative.

Just about everyone is on a budget. Just about everyone is feeling the strain. But I believe that just about everyone can do something to help. As Mother Theresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one."

Photo Credit Talia Frenkel / American Red Cross
Haiti Earthquake 2010

There are a lot of excellent charities out there and I hope everyone will find one that they can support, as their budget allows. After some considerable research, Charlie and I made our donation to the Red Cross because 91% of the donation goes to humanitarian relief and they have considerable outreach.

Ah well ... the first week of sticking to a strict budget just went due south.

But, I'm hopeful we'll quickly recover.

Photo Credit Talia Frenkel / American Red Cross
Haiti Earthquake 2010

It is our most fervent prayer, the people of Haiti will, too.

13 comments:

  1. "Provided of course, you believe God exists. Which to me, I'd much prefer to believe that than the alternative"

    Except the alternative comforts me. I am comforted that I don't have to look to "blame" anyone. I don't feel the need to wonder why something omnipotent and omnipresent (that is supposed to love unconditionally) would allow unspeakable heartache to befall some the worlds most vulnerable people. It is this: a horrible natural disaster that struck and already impoverished and hurting country.


    My faith will lie in the millions of people all over the world ( believers and non- believers) who are donating what they can, in the face of their own economic strife to help. It will lie in the the thousands of people who leave their own family to dedicate their time an emotional energy to rescue people they have never met. And it will lie in the people (mostly women) who are marching through Haitian streets chanting and singing despite their unimaginable suffering.

    These are just my thoughts out loud Jen. I think you are a wonderful person.

    Peace~
    Karen(pgrad)

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  2. Thank you for your thoughtful and moving post, Jenn. I didn't know if anyone had posted about a very simple way people can donate to Haitian relief through the Red Cross. You can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti. The $10 shows up on your phone bill at the end of the month. They raised over a million dollars the FIRST DAY through this small, simple donation tool! You can verify this through the Red Cross website at:
    http://newsroom.redcross.org/2010/01/12/disaster-alert-earthquake-in-haiti/

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  3. pgrad - I totally agree, I don't see how any one could blame any one else for this tragedy. It's unfathomable to me. This was a terrible natural disaster in the most unfortunate of geographical locations.

    But to me, that feeling inside that makes our hearts hurt and that drives us to help, is divinely inspired. I want to believe it is inspired. I want to believe that I'm not in this alone. I want to believe that there is a greater purpose to every struggle that we face, which we may never understand - but which if we listen to the voice within (rather than suppress it!) - will make us better and stronger and more compassionate to the entire world in which we live.

    Obviously, this has been a real struggle for me. But this is where I've finally arrived (at least for now) and it feels good. Please don't give me anything else to think about. I can't stand it.

    Just kidding. I think you're pretty wonderful, too. :)

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  4. Beautifully put - twice.

    I believe we will struggle until the day we physically "step" into the grave - I believe it is all part of the process of learning to know God.

    I believe He encourages us and is please with us for questioning (many will disagree with that).

    I believe this is where I have arrived. And it feels good, too.

    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

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  5. I don't believe in God, although I have nothing against faith. In fact, we're raising our daughters Catholic. We, too, have set our finances back quite a bit by a donation to the Red Cross, but paying off our cars can wait.

    I personally find myself empowered by my atheism. I don't hold a higher power responsible for the good and bad things in my life or in the world, so *I* always have the ability to improve things. I suppose I grew up around too many people who sat back and did nothing because they thought making things better was God's responsibility. What turned me off religion early in life was the number of people around me who used God's forgiveness to excuse immoral behaviour.

    Religion is a great moral framework, but I think it's also possible to have such a framework without the structure that belief in a deity provides. My husband and I have been fortunate to be able to build a coherent moral compass for our family by pairing my husband's Catholicism with my atheism.

    I trust that Haiti will be rebuilt stronger from this tragedy, although I don't think history has shown impoverished corrupt countries to bounce back well, in the long term, from natural disaster. However, by the world doing what we can in the short term, the long term will be up to the Haitian people.

    Thanks for keeping Haiti in our memories. It's too easy to sit back and concentrate on our comfy little lives.

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  6. Jen~

    You are most certainly not alone in all this((warm hug)). Maybe we just call that which lights us from within something different. Anyway, your post was beautiful, as is your entire family.

    Peace~
    Karen

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  7. Go right now and read the book "When Bad Things Happen To Good People"- it is written by a rabbi, but it is not about being Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Agnostic or Atheist.

    It is one of the VERY FEW books that helped me when my identical twin daughters were stillborn.

    It is the book that restored my faith. It's a GREAT book- seriously.

    You can get it for like $1 on Amazon used. I HIGHLY recommend it!

    xoxo,
    erika

    funfinns.com

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  8. Hi back Jen! - Nice write-up and so happy you are enjoying the book. I have donated money to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) - 100% of relief funds go to the disaster victims and only 5% administrative overhead costs. In fact, UMCOR is emulated by other organizations such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc. check out their site at www.gbgm-umc.org/umcor

    love you! Eileen

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  9. Hi Jen, another thought-provoking post from you. I read "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" like Erika, when I was going through infertility treatment. I remember it being a worthwhile read for what I was going through, but also feeling like it left a lot of questions up in the air. Some of those questions are fuzzy now, as it's been about 5 years. But the book didn't strengthen my faith in God like I hoped it would. I remember thinking that I'd love to have had the opportunity for a follow-up Q & A with the rabbi. One question I was left with had to do with what value he placed on prayer...because of some of the points made in the book. His logic was sound and it intriqued me, though...

    Have you heard of this book: Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion or Atheism by Frank Schaffer. It got my attention as I, like you, have been struggling lately with my beliefs (in an earlier exchange you recommended the Unitarian Church...tried that once...won't work). Anyway, I was just reading the reviews on Amazon (hey maybe we could do a bookclub of sorts?) It may be worth checking out, although I can't imagine him lumping fundamentalist Christians together with Atheists..nothing personal to either group-I just think that's odd.
    I'll be checking out Mitch Albom's latest..thank you. -Karen

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  10. One of many cuzzins!1/21/10, 8:21 AM

    Hi Jen,

    Did you know Catholic Relief Services have had a very strong presence in Haiti for decades? Long before Haiti gained world wide attention last week, Catholic organizations have been present in the country supporting this impoverished land.

    It is heartwrenching to see the suffering and loss of life and hear the statistics. How can we not ask the question WHY? In times like this, we are given opportunities to spread God's love and compassion. Whether it be a financial contribution or simply prayers to cease the suffering.

    I, personally have been offered an opportunity to go to Haiti to provide some assistance in a hospital which is 70 miles north of the disaster site. This hospital has been receiving earthquake victims and is in dire need of doctors and nurses. I've answered the call and am planning to go there to work for 7-10 days. I am nervous & afraid of what I will see, but equally anxious & excited to help the victims. I expect, physically, the task will be difficult. Working with primitive instruments in uncomfortable conditions. Psychologically, I'll be left with unimaginable sites imprinted in my mind. But, spiritually, I'll be blessed and hope to come away with a satisfaction that I've spread some of God's love and heartfelt compassion to those who really need it.

    I'm awaiting all the medical approvals and then will get a departure date. It will be soon with less than 48 hrs notice. So, these past few days I've been gathering supplies and trying to get my head wrapped around the experience that awaits me.

    Keep the prayers coming for all involved in this horrendous act of nature, that God's mercy will prevail.

    ~Regina

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  11. Amen, Amen I say to you!

    GEAT POST Jen!

    Much Love,

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  12. Great Post. Haven't read your blog in a while- will have to check in more often.

    I like to think that if there wasn't tragedy, strife and even evil in the world, then there would be no opportunity for there to be heroes. And we need heroes. And we need the opportunity (every once in a while) to be a hero ourselves. Anyone can say that they will lend a hand, help out or even lay down their life to save another. But it is only in these "senseless" tragedies that one has the opportunity to prove that they will.

    It is because the child needs a kidney that the cousin is able to sacrifice and donate hers. It is because there are natural disasters that many people will be sacrificing their own abundant comforts to bring comfort to those with little.

    It hadn't occured to me that "that feeling inside that makes our hearts hurt and that drives us to help, is divinely inspired." But I like that, in the past I would want to say that it is a human quality like honor or integrity that drives us to sacrifice for others.

    I hope that I may always be able to laugh at myself and cry for someone else. . . perhaps both are divinely inspired.

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  13. Greg E?!?!?!

    It's so great hearing from you!! I was just thinking of you this past weekend as I was pruning the plant you left for us to care for five years ago. Do you have our e-mail?? Please drop me a line sometime. I'd love to catch up with you!

    (TheAmazingTrips@gmail.com)

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